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    Word Matrix: Ply (“lay, fold, twist”)

    Word Matrix: Ply ("lay, fold, twist")

    I recently came across a tweet in a Twitter conversation that argued that studying morphemes is not always helpful. A morpheme is the smallest unit of meaning in a language. All words consist of at least one morpheme. As a structured word inquirer, I clearly think studying morphemes is helpful, and the example of <reply> piqued my interest. (The original tweeter, Tricia Miller, has since deleted all her tweets in the conversation, so I am unable to share links to the original tweets anymore.)

    “Meaning comes first so we use only words the learners know the meaning of. It’s not always helpful for spelling isolate morphemes. In ‘recommend’ it is. In ‘reply’ it’s not. Wisdom and flexibility are key.”

    A follow-up tweet further argued against studying the morphology of <reply>: “‘Reply’ doesn’t lend itself as easily to a morphological approach because the meaning of ‘ply’ is too obscure to make it a good tool for remembering how to spell the word.”

    I could not fathom the reason not recognizing the <re> suffix in <reply>. I would think of four other words that contain the <ply> base off the top of my head:

    apply
    imply
    multiply
    ply~pliable~pliant

    Obscure is an adjective that means “relatively unknown, not readily understood or clearly expressed.” Five common words does not seem very “obscure” to me.

    Diving into Etymonline, I discovered that the <ply> base in <reply> comes from the Latin <plicare> “to lay, fold, twist.” Latin <plicare> came from Proto-Italic <*plekt->, which came from Proto-Indo-European root <*plek-> meaning “to plait.” The PIE <*plek-> developed into <ply> along with <plice>, <plex>, <ploy>, and a handful other other related words. (I also discovered that the <ply> in <comply> and <supply> comes from a different root, PIE *pele- meaning “to fill,” which I plan to study in a later post.)

    accomplice
    applicate~application~applicant~applicable
    complicate~complication~complicity
    duplicate~duplicity
    explicate~explicit
    implicate~implication~implicit
    multiplication~multiplicand
    replica~replicate~replication
    triplicate

    complex~complexion
    duplex
    implex
    perplex~perplexity
    simplex
    plexus

    deploy
    employ

    display~splay
    exploit
    flax
    plait
    plash
    pleat
    plie
    plight

    The base <ply> and its relatives are not obscure by any meaning of the word. Heck, I have 2-ply toilet paper in my bathroom right now. The toilet paper is folded in two. Two folds. 2-ply.

    But should obscurity even matter? Is the point of learning to uncover only unobscure things? I think not. Learning should reveal the truth, fully and accurately.

    <ply>
    “lay, fold, twist,” from the Latin plicare, from Proto-Italic *plekt-, from Proto-Indo-European root *plek- “to plait”

    Word Sums

    ap + Ply -> apply
    ap + Ply + es -> applies
    ap + Ply + ed -> applied
    ap + Ply + ing -> applying
    mis + ap + Ply -> misapply
    mis + ap + Ply + es -> misapplies
    mis + ap + Ply + ed -> misapplied
    mis + ap + Ply + ing -> misapplying
    pre + ap + Ply -> preapply
    pre + ap + Ply + es -> preapplies
    pre + ap + Ply + ed -> preapplied
    pre + ap + Ply + ing -> preapplying
    re + ap + Ply -> reapply
    re + ap + Ply + es -> reapplies
    re + ap + Ply + ed -> reapplied
    re + ap + Ply + ing -> reapplying
    ap + Ply + er -> applier
    ap + Ply + er + s -> appliers
    ap + Ply + ance -> appliance
    ap + Ply + ance + s -> appliances
    ap + Ply + able -> appliable
    ap + Ply + ant -> appliant
    ap + Ply + ant + s -> appliants

    im + Ply -> imply
    im + Ply + es -> implies
    im + Ply + ed -> implied
    im + Ply + ing -> implying
    im + Ply + ed + ly -> impliedly
    im + Ply + er -> implier
    im + Ply + er + s -> impliers
    non + im + Ply +ed -> nonimplied
    un + im + Ply + ed -> unimplied

    mult + i + Ply -> multiply
    mult + i + Ply + es -> multiplies
    mult + i + Ply + ed -> multiplied
    mult + i + Ply + ing -> multiplying
    mult + i + Ply + ing + s -> multiplyings
    mult + i + Ply + er -> multiplier
    mult + i + Ply + er + s -> multipliers
    mult + i + Ply + able -> multipliable
    un + mult + i + Ply + able -> unmultipliable
    de + mult + i + Ply -> demultiply
    de + mult + i + Ply + es -> demultiplies
    de + mult + i + Ply + ed -> demultiplied
    de + mult + i + Ply + ing -> demultiplying
    re + mult + i + Ply -> remultiply
    re + mult + i + Ply + es -> remultiplies
    re + mult + i + Ply + ed -> remultiplied
    re + mult + i + Ply + ing -> remultiplying

    Ply -> ply
    Ply + es -> plies
    Ply + ed -> plied
    Ply + ing -> plying
    Ply + able -> pliable
    Ply + ant -> pliant
    Ply + er -> plier
    Ply + er + s -> pliers
    Ply + er -> plyer
    Ply + er + s -> plyers
    Ply + Wood -> plywood
    Ply + Wood + s -> plywoods

    Morphemes

    ply: lay, fold, twist
    -s/-es: forming plural of noun
    -s: forming third person singular of verbs
    -ed: forming simple past and past participle of weak verb
    -ing: forming present participle of verb

    -able: word-forming element of English adjectives and generally adding a notion of capable of, allowed, worthy of, or requiring [a + B + (i)l(e)]
    -ant: denoting attribution of an action or state, agent or instrumental suffix
    ap-: to, toward; with regard to, in relation to [variation of ad- before p]
    -ance: forming a noun denoting a quality or state or denoting an action
    de-: denoting removal or reversal
    -er: denoting a person or thing that performs a specified action or activity
    -i-: connecting vowel
    im-: into, in, on, upon [assimilated form of in-]
    -ly: denoting manner or degree
    mis-: bad, wrong
    mult-: more than one, many
    non-: expressing negation or absence, not
    pre-: prior to, before, earlier, in front of
    re-: once again
    un-: denoting the absence of a quality or state, not, denoting reversal, a lack of
    wood: tree, trees collectively, forest, grove; the substance of which trees are made

    Relatives

    <plice>
    accomplice
    applicate~application~applicant~applicable
    complicate~complication~complicity
    duplicate~duplicity
    explicate~explicit
    implicate~implication~implicit
    multiplication~multiplicand
    replica~replicate~replication
    triplicate

    <plex>
    complex~complexion
    duplex
    implex
    perplex~perplexity
    simplex
    plexus

    <ploy>
    deploy
    employ

    display~splay
    exploit
    flax
    plait
    plash
    pleat
    plie
    plight

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